Russia Update: 2,719 Russian Citizens Joined ISIS; of These 160 ‘Destroyed’ in War

November 20, 2015
Screen grab from video reportedly released by ISIS November 12, 2015 which threatens Russia.

A Russian counter-terrorism official announced that 160 ISIS fighters who are Russian citizens have been killed out of the 2,719 who have gone to Syria to join ISIS.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Dow and Pearson Sell Last Foreign Shares of Vedomosti to Kudryavtsev; Fears of Loss of Independence

Vedomosti, one of Russia’s leading independent newspapers, has now lost its foreign owners in a development that has caused many to worry about the future of its independence.
Dow Jones and Pearson announced today that they had sold their shares in Vedomosti, once a joint venture between Dow, Sanoma, a Finnish company and the Russian company.
Dmitry Kudryavtsev, a Russian entrepreneur who bought out the Finnish shares last year purchased the remaining shares from Dow and Pearson.
In their corporate press release, Dow stated they were driven to part with their shares due to the new Russian requirement regarding foreign ownership of the media:

“We are very proud of the work we have done with Vedomosti and our contribution to independent press in Russia for the past 15 years. Due to the newly passed law limiting foreign ownership of media organizations in Russia, Dow Jones and Pearson have entered into an agreement to divest their stakes in Vedomosti.  The transaction is expected to close before the end of the year, when the new law takes effect.”

“The quality and integrity of the Vedomosti editorial team is outstanding and both the FT and The Wall Street Journal plan to continue licensing content to Vedomosti to provide high-quality, international news to readers in Russia.”

In the last year during the war in Ukraine, Vedomosti published a number of important stories including a list of the units of the Russian military said to be participating in the fight; information about Russian casualties; and editorials questioning the Kremlin’s actions.
Dmitry Kudryavtsev has made announcements in the past that he does not plan interference in the editorial decisions of Vedomosti
But Russians who have watched other independent press such as Ekho Moskvy and Novaya Gazeta come under intense pressure from the Kremlin are skeptical.

Derk Sauer is the name of the Dutch citizen who founded The Moscow Times in 1992, who sold the paper to the Finnish company Sanoma in 2005 while remaining as CEO until 2013, then moved to become president of, a leading independent wire service in Russia. Recently Moscow Times was turned into a weekly.

It is not known if this is an authentic account. Sauer has been targeted by conservative Russian politicians such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky who has called for him to be removed from his current position at, an independent business wire service.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian Strategic Bombers Buzz UK Airspace, RAF Fighters Scrambled

RFE/RL reports that British fighter jets have been scrambled to intercept two Russian Tu-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers:

Britain scrambled Typhoon fighter jets to intercept two Russian bombers near British airspace over the Atlantic Ocean on November 19, the Ministry of Defense said.

“Typhoon aircraft went up from RAF Lossiemouth to intercept two Russian Tu-160 aircraft flying in Britain’s area of interest in international airspace over the Atlantic [on November 19] and remained with them until they left the area,” a ministry spokesman said on November 20.

Tu-160s have been used to strike Syria with cruise missiles this week. The Aviationist reports:

Interestingly, the Blackjacks launched their cruise missiles (most probably the new, stealthy KH-101s that they have been using since they launched the first air strike on ground targets in Syria) from the Mediterranean Sea for the very first time. Here’s an image (there are more available on Twitter) of the Tu-160 flying over Syria, with an escorting Su-30SMs.

Russian state-controlled propaganda networks have been publishing a lot of stories this week about the Tu-160s, playing up their “formidable” capabilities in fighting ISIS:

Tu-160 Strategic Bomber: Russian 'Formidable' Weapon Against ISIL in Syria

The Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber developed in the USSR. It became a formidable answer to the stealthy Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit – the last US-made Cold War-era strategic bomber, military analyst Dave Majumdar wrote in his article for The National Interest.

View full page →

Nov 20, 2015 21:51 (GMT)

Of course, this is misleading, since multiple Russian cruise missiles hit targets in territory controlled by non-ISIS rebels.
James Miller
Russia’s Parliament Contemplates Extraordinary Measures to Respond to Terrorism, Including Death Penalty
Members of both the State Duma and Federal Assembly are in joint session today to discuss plans for responding to the threat of terrorism, since the admission by President Vladimir Putin this week that the crash of the Metrojet in Egypt on October 31 was the work of a terrorist bomb. reports a number of extraordinary measures that the law-makers may institute in response to the threat to national security:

o remove the moratorium on the death penalty
o remove passports from terrorists
o institute an international tribunal for terrorism
o strengthen criminal penalties for terrorist acts
o clarify the concept of “recruitment” and “assistance” in laws on terrorism.

Valentina Matvienko, speaker of the Federal Council, or upper house of parliament, said the authorities were doing “everything that is possible and impossible” to cope with the terrorist threat and that society must end the “carelessness, indifference, undervaluation of the current danger” and ” do everything to help the security agencies, and feel their responsibility.”

She underscored the need for further measures, but emphasized that this was not to go over board into “extreme measures,” that would “limit constitutional rights and liberties of Russian citizens” or would “allow departure from principles of a law-based state.” Even without the declaration of a state of emergency, however, Putin has moved in the last year since invading Ukraine to stepping up the declaration of NGOs as “foreign agents” which has put many out of business; sentenced opposition leaders in trumped up cases and reined in the press.

Matvienko called for the long-stalled international convention on terrorism to be signed by the countries of the world; this effort has always faltered on the disagreements among countries about the definitions and differences between a militant or freedom-fighter and a terrorist. She invoked the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trial which condemned the war crimes of fascism.

Sergei Mironov is head of the Just Russia faction in the Duma, a party that was once seen as the liberal-but-establishment answer to the conservative United Russia, but which has grown more conformist since the annexation of the Crimea, which Just Russia supported.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the presidential administration, in response to reporters’ inquiries, said the Kremlin had no plans to reinstate the death penalty and the moratorium was still in place.

Sergei Naryshkin, speaker for the Duma, said crimes of terrorism should not have any statutes of limitation and that while some terrorists become known as “rebels” in history, people still remember them as “evil entities.”

Vladimir Vasilyev of United  Russia cited world ratings of terrorist attacks and noted that Russia was at its lowest indicator since 2007, which mean that intelligence agencies must be doing their job and that Putin had succeeded in “bringing people together.” But by Russia’s admission yesterday, more than 2,700 Russian citizens have gone to Syria to fight with ISIS.

Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the roots of terrorism are in social injustice and that terrorism could not be defeated without social-economic solutions. 

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for restoration of the name KGB, which stood for “Committee for State Security,” and if not that name, then “Ministry of State Security” (MGB) which is also one of the historical names for Russia’s secret police.

He also called for tourists to pay for their own security guards while on vacation, “as the Americans do” and called for all the teachers at Moscow State University in the philosophy department to be fired, as one student, Varvara Karaulova, currently in pre-trial detention, had been recruited to ISIS while studying Islamic culture there. Karaulova,  was arrested by Turkish authorities before entering Syria, extradited to Russia and is now awaiting trial on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist group.

Yevgeny Fyodorov, a deputy of the State Duma and the leader of the ultra-nationalist Popular Liberation Movement (NOD), said the protests by long-distance truckers against the Platon system collecting highway tolls is a “fifth column” organized by the US government to destroy the Russian state order, reported.

Fyodor who is head of the Duma’s Committee on Economic Policy and Entrepreneurship further called the striking truckers “Navalny’s militants,” referencing anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalany, and said that their protest against heavy tolls and fines was “sabotage.”
He added that he believed that “deceivers and liars” from the American embassy would send “fighters from Ukraine” to overthrow the Russian government. 
Truckers went on strike last week to complain about new tolls and fines that they said already crippled their difficult work in the economic crisis. Authorities relented and rolled back the new toll but plan to reinstate some of it later.
Fyodorov was involved in supporting Russian volunteers fighting in Ukraine, and two of his followers created a press service for separatist leader Col. Igor Strelkov, but were killed in crossfire last year along with a Russian journalist. Fyodorov 
subscribes to a conspiracy theory whereby the US has already infiltrated the Kremlin and is responsible for some moderates in the Kremlin; he also believes some rock music is “US-instigated sabotage.”

The Duma or Federation Council are unlikely to declare a state of emergency on their own, until they receive instructions from the Kremlin, following long practice.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Investigative Commitee Spokesman Vladimir Markin Hospitalized with ‘Severe Trauma’ from Hockey Game

Sergei Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee of Russia, a body nominally separate from police and prosecutors, was rushed to the emergency room of a Moscow clinic, LifeNews reported. At first he was said to have sustained “a severe trauma” and was in intensive care, but no details were available.

Translation: Investigative Committee official representative Vladimir Markin severely injured.

Now LifeNews, a pro-Kremlin TV station close to police and intelligence, says he “broke his leg in a hockey match” this morning while playing “in an aggressive manner” and clashed with an opponent.

There was no explanation for why this official, who announces the top criminal cases of Russia, including many involving political opposition, was playing hockey in the morning. 

Markin’s last tweet was three days ago with a link to an article about the alleged support of an Ukrainian ultra-nationalist for ISIS ; he does not tweet daily.

Translation: The vermin are multiplying in a favorable environment, and they have only one fate: if they are not crushed, they are turned into lice but the end is the same.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Searches Under Way at Interior Ministry in Possible Bribery Case
Searches are under way at the main Moscow division of the Interior Ministry, possibly in relation to a bribe-taking case, reported, citing Interfax. Details are not known.
RIA Novosti also reported a tip from within law-enforcement. The Interior Ministry press office confirmed that an investigation was in progress but did not explain the reason:

“We confirm that investigative activities are being carried out in the service building of the Main Directorate of the Interior Ministry of Russia for Moscow. If the involvement of officers of the Moscow police in illegal actions is established, they will be immediately fired from the Interior Ministry agencies for negative reasons and their immediate superiors will be subject to strict disciplinary liability.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
2,719 Russian Citizens Have Joined ISIS; of These 160 ‘Destroyed’ in War: Russian Foreign Ministry
A Russian counter-terrorism official announced that 160 ISIS fighters who are Russian citizens have been killed, TASS reported.
Oleg Syromolotov, deputy foreign minister for counter-terrorism said at a meeting of the Club of Friends of the Gorchakov Fund (translation by The Interpreter) yesterday, November 19:

“At the present time, more than 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters are fighting under the banner of IS, including from Arab countries, Europe, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. From Russia, 2,719 Russian citizens have left for Syria; 160 of them have been destroyed; 73 have returned and been tried, and 36 were arrested.”

There was no independent confirmation of the claims. 

The figure is higher than the number of 1,700 often given by Russian officials in recent months, and the figure of 73 who have been tried in courts is many more than the few cases that have come to light.

Syromolotov reiterated a theme that a number of Russian officials have been promoting: the crash of Russia’s Metrojet plane in Egypt “highlights the need for international forces to come together to crush terrorism”:

“We view this barbaric attack on our citizens in the context of a series of bloody terrorist acts committed recently in Paris, Beirut, Iraq, Ankara and Egypt. The competent agencies of the Russian Federation have begun the search for the guilty in the tragedy of the Russian plane. This will will be continued until all those involved will be exposed and will receive the punishment they deserve wherever they are located.”

Syromolotov said that Moscow was calling on all countries to assist them in the search for those guilty of the Metrojet bombing:

“Russia will pursue Article 51 of the UN Charter in these circumstances, with provides the right to a state for self-defense. We believe that what has happened testifies obviously for the need to unite the efforts of the international community to suppress the global terrorist threat on the basis of the norms and principles of international law, the statutes of the UN Charter, without politicization and doubles standards ,in the framework of a broad anti-terrorist front against the Islamic State. Russia confirms its readiness to deepen anti-terrorist cooperation both at the political level and along the line of the intelligence services.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick